Club Focus – Palermo – The fighting spirit returns

Palermo maintained pace with Sampdoria after a hard-fought win over a subsequently relegated Siena. The Robur played like a team who knew anything less than a win would see them demoted, however, due to Bologna’s draw with Atalanta they would have been relegated anyway. It was a tough game for the Rosanero who were made to work very hard, but ultimately the difference in class showed at the Artemio Franchi. Goals by Edison Cavani and Fabrizio Miccoli were opposed with wasted opportunities as, despite their efforts, Siena showed exactly why they were relegated this season.

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The Rosanero showed something on Sunday that they have failed to show in many away games this season, a real determination in the face of a tough game. Hopefully for Palermo fans, this grit and resolve away from home has not come too late in the season for them. Going into the game, Delio Rossi and the team were well aware of the problems they would encounter. It could have been a banana skin game should the team have taken their eye off the ball and looked ahead to next weekend’s titanic clash. Rossi, however, had his players focussed and motivated.

It would have been all too easy to start to think about the forthcoming battle with Sampdoria, but any such thoughts would have been quashed just ten minutes into the game as Siena made a positive start. They would have been pretty certain that Sampdoria would have beaten Livorno, so it was crucial to get a win. It is surely a good sign that Rossi has control of his squad and has their full attention, his leadership since taking over from Walter Zenga has been fantastic. We must also not forget that he has taken them from the bottom half of the league to fighting for the Champions League, arguably one of the most impressive achievements of his career to date.

Despite lacking their fighting spirit away from home at times this season, this Rosanero squad showed on Sunday that they really want this fourth spot and are willing to fight for it. Fabrizio Miccoli summed it up perfectly: “We had to suffer today, for this reason we are delighted with the win.” Despite appearing straightforward, a game against a relegation-threatened team at the business end of the season is historically troublesome. There are reams of examples of ‘upsets’ in such circumstances, the atmosphere at the ground and the vibrancy of the fans and energy of the players making it seem like a play-off game. These are the games where, if you are not completely focused, you can be overwhelmed and barraged for 90 minutes.

However, Palermo’s apparent turnaround in attitude could be attributed to the players’ realisation of where they are situated and how close they are to achieving their lofty ambitions this season. It could also be borne out of the confidence gained from the two late goals in the draw with Cagliari in week 34, a result which proved that this team are not willing to accept poor performances away from home, that they are a good side and they can play like one wherever they are.

This is just the game Palermo needed to focus their minds for the final two rounds of the campaign. They can now focus on next weekend with Rossi exclaiming: “We are glad to come through this ‘semi-final’, giving us the chance to take on Sampdoria in a head-to-head next weekend.” Next week presents a winner-takes-all scenario, a £20 million game with the Champions League being so financially lucrative. Of course, the Rosanero’s home form has been hugely impressive this season and they will have every right to go in to the tie very confident. They are starting to gather momentum again, momentum that has come at exactly the right time of the season. Grinding out results away from home is often seen as the hallmark of champions, but it has been one of the few question marks hanging over this Palermo team this season. Can they show resolve and the spirit of the battle when they really have to win? On Sunday they answered that question.

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